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(1) There shall be a Select Committee, to consist of seven Members, to join with the committee appointed by the Lords as the Joint Committee on Tax Simplification Bills, to consider tax
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): This is the motion for which we have really been waiting--the previous motion was a taster. Having set up a rather ill-begotten Committee, against my better judgment, with all its loopholes and rules that we do not quite understand, we come to the exciting stage of considering whether the Members proposed for it are appropriate. It is always invidious--[Interruption.]
Mr. Forth: It is always invidious for the House to have to judge its colleagues. However, we are forced to do so in this instance because the Government have brought forward a list of proposed names for the Committee. As we teased out in the previous debate, the Committee may well be able to have an effect on rates and the burden of taxation, albeit in alliance with Members of another place, without knowing who they will be. The Minister helpfully told us earlier that she believed that the other place may be deciding on its membership of the Committee this evening, but at this stage we are unable to know. We are being asked to give consideration to our membership of the Committee without necessarily knowing who the members from the other place will be.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Does my right hon. Friend agree that that means that we shall not know what the political balance of the Committee will be because we do not know who the other place will nominate? Secondly, we will not know what the expertise will be. We do not know what areas of competence will come from the other place. That being so, we will not know whom we should seek to appoint.
The Minister told us that she believed that in another place there would be proposed two Labour members of the Committee, two Conservative members, one Cross-Bencher and one Liberal Democrat. We know what the Minister thinks the other place will do, but whether it will jump to her instructions remains to be seen. We have a hint from the hon. Lady of what the possible political composition of the delegation from the other place will be, but we cannot know what their competence will be. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is right about that. In that sense, we are operating in a vacuum. We must deliberate and decide on the qualifications and relevance of the Members who have been proposed to us on the basis of our own knowledge of them.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend would intervene on himself and talk about pigs flying. I intended to move on to the point that he has made. However, I want to go through the list of names in a slightly more orderly way, so that we can establish whether the House is happy with the proposed list of names.
The first is the very senior and distinguished hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who was first elected in 1968. It is a pity that he is not present to hear such praises heaped upon his head. I understood from the public prints that the hon. Gentleman had announced that he was retiring from the House at the end of this Parliament. If that were the case--he is not here to confirm it or otherwise--it would seem rather odd that we are being asked to approve the appointment of a colleague to an important and influential Committee, as we have repeatedly been told that it will be, when that person may serve but a few weeks, if an election is coming upon us as rapidly as is speculated.
The hon. Gentleman, very senior as he is, and respected and loved by us all, spent most of his life before entering the House as a journalist. He spent a brief time as a Government Whip. Whether that qualifies him as being of stoutly independent mind or whether it means that we should be slightly suspicious of where he might be coming from, with regard to his membership of the Committee, I leave it for others to judge.
In "Dod's Parliamentary Companion", the hon. Gentleman gives as his interests the media, trade unions and the national lottery. Whether that qualifies him for membership of such an important and influential Committee, I leave the House to make its own judgment. Media, trade unions and the lottery do not strike me at first glance as being the ideal interests and qualifications for a member of the Committee.
Mr. Hogg: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been focusing on the first-named in the motion and dealing with the matter of continuity. One thing that is certain about tax law is that one needs to study it and understand it over a period of time. Does my right hon. Friend agree that anyone who is appointed to the Committee by the motion should have a good prospect of serving in the House after the next election and bringing to the Committee such continuity?
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. That is partly the point that I had intended to make. When I get down the list to one of the other members, I shall raise a slightly different query. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw is, regrettably, not present. I am beginning to wonder what level of commitment we can
A few moments ago we discussed the quorum, and some of us expressed an anxiety that members of the Committee may not be able to fulfil even the modest quorum requirement. If they cannot be bothered to turn up to be praised and lauded and perhaps, depending on the view of the House, to be appointed to the Committee, I am rather pessimistic about whether they will turn up to the Committee itself.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I am reluctant to interrupt my right hon. Friend's train of thought, but before he moves on from the first hon. Member named in the motion, may I point out that "Dod's Parliamentary Companion" to which he referred states that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw is interested in travel and do-it-yourself? I wondered whether either of those has any bearing on the Bill. Have I missed something? I assumed that the Committee would not be one of those travelling Committees that are so popular with some hon. Members, and I thought that the idea was that one did not DIY when it came to tax reform, but perhaps I got it wrong.
Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that most of those named in the motion are not present, with the honourable exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), the Minister and the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond), the Parliamentary Private Secretary. Is it possible that other members of the Committee whose names appear on the Order Paper have not been informed of the honour that is about to be imposed upon them?